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BBC Panorama finds Bangladeshi workers locked in on 19-hour shifts

A BBC investigation has found factory workers in Bangladesh forced to work 19-hour days in dangerous conditions.


Panorama secretly filmed workers making clothes for the supermarket Lidl, who were locked inside a factory in the middle of the night. They started work at 7am and were eventually let out at 2.30am. But when reporter Richard Bilton visited the factory posing as a western buyer, he was given timesheets that falsely claimed the shift ended nine hours earlier.

The programme found another factory, making clothes for retailers like Gap and H&M, that was also hiding long working hours.

Most western retailers have codes of conduct that limit the number of working hours and they are supposed to be enforced with regular audits.

Kalpona Akter, from the Bangladesh Center for Worker Solidarity, says many factories hide the truth about long hours from western retailers. “The factory owners, they keep two different books. So one they show to the buyers, the other they show to the worker. These retailers’ so-called audits really don’t work.”

Panorama investigated factory safety following the Rana Plaza building collapse in which more than 1,100 people died. The programme found there have been more than 50 factory fires in the past 10 months. Many workers have died because factory gates were locked and they were unable to escape. Despite this danger, the programme secretly filmed a security guard locking the front gate at the factory making clothes for Lidl. Workers were locked in at 1.15am, before they were finally allowed to go home at 2.30am.

One worker who had earned around £2 for his 19-hour day, told the programme that he had to be back at the factory in four hours. “My feelings are bad and my health is too. In the last two weeks, approximately, it has been like this for eight nights.”

Lidl said the programme’s findings were “concerning” and showed how important it was to improve conditions in Bangladesh. “Change, however, takes time and constitutes not only a challenge for Lidl but for all active companies in the retail industry.” Lidl said it had invested more than £6 million to improve the living and working conditions in Bangladesh.

The factory denied that workers were forced to work 19-hour shifts, and said that a second gate in the building was open. It said the programme’s allegations about time sheets were “false and baseless” and that the factory works legally and does not deprive workers of their rights.

Panorama also monitored working hours at a factory making clothes for H&M and Gap. Here, the working day sometimes started at 7am and finished at 10.30pm, but not all of the overtime hours were shown on the workers’ payslips. When the programme’s undercover reporter visited the factory as a buyer, he was told that the working day was just 10 hours. The factory later admitted it had two sets of books, but said it was compliant with the law and that workers were never forced to do overtime. It also said some employees were working additional hours in order to extend their holidays.

H&M said that overtime “remains a major challenge in the garment industry”. It said it monitors overtime at the factory by checking documentation and interviewing workers.

Gap said its clothes made up less than five per cent of the factory’s output and that it has no plans to place further orders. It also said that suppliers are required to comply with its code of conduct.

The programme also questions another British retailer, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, which has not paid compensation following a factory fire in which more than 100 people died. Boxes of Edinburgh Woollen Mill clothes were photographed at Tazreen Fashion following the fire last November.

The company says its clothes were made by another factory in the same group and had been stored at Tazreen without its knowledge or prior approval. But documents given to Panorama appear to show that Edinburgh Woollen Mill clothes were manufactured at the factory. They include specific product codes and give details about Edinburgh Woollen Mill T-shirts and polo shirts being made and inspected inside the factory. The product codes on the documents match the product codes for clothing currently on sale in the company’s shops. The programme also spoke to former Tazreen workers who said they had been working on Edinburgh Woollen Mill products for months.

But the company strongly objected to the workers’ claims. It said the paperwork was “inaccurate or fabricated” and that documents and clothes that had been stored at the factory were scattered around after the fire to imply that Edinburgh Woollen Mill products were made there.

Panorama: Dying For A Bargain will be shown on Monday 23 September at 8.30pm on BBC One

If you use any of the information in this release, please credit BBC Panorama.


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